France will introduce plastic packaging tax in 2019

baguette in plastic packagingCountries, states and even cities are cracking down on illicit plastic usage and plastic products. France recently announced a pledge to use only recycled plastic packaging by 2025, and it plans to penalize companies using packaging made of non-recycled plastic starting in 2019.

According to an Aug. 12, 2018, article in the publication France 24, the plan would increase the cost of consumer goods with packaging made of non-recycled plastic. Brune Poirson, the secretary of state for ecological transition, said, “Declaring war on plastic is not enough. We need to transform the French economy,” she told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.” 

France is betting that people will not pay more for goods packaged in non-recycled plastic. Products sold in virgin plastic bottles and containers will cost up to 10% more than those in recycled plastic materials. There is also a plan to implement a deposit-refund scheme for plastic bottles. “When non-recycled plastic will cost more, that will eliminate much of the excessive packaging,” Poirson told France 24.

The article doesn’t say whether the recycled plastic packaging must be 100% recycled material or if a certain percentage of recycled material would be acceptable. 

Emmanuel Guichard of the Elipso federation of plastic packaging makers gave a "cautious welcome to the French plan,” said France 24. “For bottles, giving consumers a choice is possible,” Guichard is quoted as saying. “But we can’t forget other items—today, no recycled plastic is available for yogurt pots.”

Flore Berlingen of the Zero Waste France association hopes that companies will comply by making bottles and other packaging from recycled material so that their customers “aren’t the ones penalized.”

France is not big on recycling, said Berlingen, noting that plastic has its limitations in the number of times an item can be recycled into new products, “unlike glass, which is infinitely recyclable.”

Berlingen added: “Recycling is necessary but not sufficient. We absolutely must cut off the flow and have more stringent measures against over-packaging and disposable objects.”

So what we have here is a catch 22: Only recycled plastics can be used to make bottles and containers or your customers will pay up to 10% more for your products. But processors cannot recycle plastics an infinite number of times because plastics' durability, strength and barrier properties will break down. A certain amount of virgin resin must be added to the recyclate to maintain plastics’ benefits. 

Ultimately, processors could run out of recyclate if not enough virgin material products are made. Cutting off the flow of plastics altogether seems to be the goal, moving back to tin, aluminum and glass. But are those materials the best alternatives when it comes to energy use, shelf life and transportation and production costs? Many studies suggest that plastic packaging is the most sustainable and economical material.

Lest we forget, plastic straws are also in France’s crosshairs. The nation’s two largest supermarket chains, Carrefour and Leclerc, have said they will quit selling plastic straws in the coming months, ahead of a law outlawing them by 2020.

Santa Barbara, a coastal city in the People’s Republic of California, is also getting tough on straws. Last month, Santa Barbara announced a proposal for a new ordinance that would make it illegal for businesses to hand out straws and plastic cutlery to patrons who do not specifically ask for those items. The fines proposed are pretty hefty: $250 for a first violation, and $1,000 and six months in jail for a second violation. And that’s per straw or stirrer! Each counts as a separate violation. 

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